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Vitagen in trouble over comparisons with competitors

Vitagen has copped flak for a not-so-subtle chart its influencers shared online which compares its sugar level against competitor products.

The chart, titled “Vitagen Less Sugar”, compares the percentage of sugar content per 100ml contained in Vitagen as opposed to other cultured milk drinks in the market. The post was also shared by influencers Kate Pang and Cheryl Tay.

Despite competitor names being removed, netizens were quick to identify the products, and called out Vitagen for its “low blow” and “cheap” marketing tactics. The most prominent competitor product identified was Yakult, which came in at 16.8% in terms of sugar level.

According to the online comments, the main issue netizens took with the chart was the lack of fair comparison with the low sugar alternatives. A quick check by Marketing also found the products the chart referenced most similar to products from Meiji and YoyiCi.

 

The move follows a recent pledge made by several brands to cooperate in reducing the amount of sugar in its sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), one of which is Malaysia Dairy Industries. The pledge was in response to a national day rally speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who urged consumers to cut their sugar intake to reduce risk of diabetes.

Marketing has reached out to Malaysia Dairy Industries, which owns the Vitagen brand.

According to the guidelines seen on the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, all advertisements should conform to the principles of fair competition generally accepted in business. This includes non-denigration, which explains that advertisements should not “unfairly attack of discredit other products, organisations or professions directly or by implication”.

While in Singapore we haven’t seen blatant swings taken by brands at their competitors, a recent ad from FWD Singapore also took the approach of a comparison chart to push its endowment plans. Taking a similar approach to Vitagen, FWD compared existing endowment plans in the market to competitors named “Insurer G” and “Insurer A”.

FWD Facebook post - cropped

On a global level, taking jibes at competitors via ads is not a new tactic. This is especially for brands such as McDonalds’ and Burger King which has a long-famed rivalry. Just last year, McDonald’s France took a jab at Burger King which had fewer drive-thru locations in France.

Meanwhile, brands such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola have also taken cheeky jabs at each other through their ads. For example, Pepsi ran an ad for its “Pepsi Pass” loyalty programme, which took a double shot at Coca-Cola’s signature polar bear mascot and its Share-a-Coke campaign.

In 2014, Samsung also took a swipe at competitor Apple with not just one but six hilarious videos on its YouTube channel. The commercials made a jibe at the screen size of the then-new iPhone, the streaming lag the public saw during #AppleLive, the Apple Watch, the low battery life and much more.

 

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